If you haven’t read Chapter 1 – 26, make sure you read them first. Find the Table of Contents here.

Sam found Penelope sitting on a bench in front of the vet clinic, watching the long line of people waiting outside the Glacier Pique office for the Thank You Thursday meal. It was the first day without snowfall since the big storm and it seemed like the entire town was out to celebrate. People who had been hiding away in their homes were now digging themselves out, going for walks and enjoying all that Glacier Village had to offer, including Marta’s hearty chicken pot pies.

Penelope sighed and watched her breath rise and disappear into the crisp air in front of her. “Just look at all those happy faces. Glacier Village doesn’t deserve the Blooms. Why would anyone start a petition to stop Thank You Thursdays and why have over two hundred people signed it? Not a single day goes by that I don’t get punched in the face with stupid.” She looked over at Sam. “And speaking of punches, what happened to your head?”

Sam touched the cut on her forehead. “Oh, this? It’s nothing. Did you get a chance to get a bite to eat?”

“No! I was here thirty minutes before they even put out the table and haven’t moved since. Didn’t want to miss anyone, just in case. Can you smell those pies?” Penelope inhaled deeply and continued, “My mouth has been watering the entire time. But I may have missed the targets anyway. Those photos Drew took are terrible!”

“They’re not that bad.”

“Are you kidding me? You’re just saying that because the photos of you in the Times today are worse.”

“What?”

Penelope’s eyes widened like she was a deer caught in headlights and Sam could almost see the gears turning in her friend’s head as she tried to figure out how extract the foot she’d just jammed into her mouth. “What?” Penelope echoed back.

“Pips.”

“Oh my goodness, Sam! I forgot to tell you! William did funniest thing this morning when I woke up—”

“Is that the Times there, Pips?” Sam interrupted, spotting the corners of a folded newspaper peeking out from Penelope’s bag.

“What?” Penelope tried again, her eyes now darting this way and that, looking for an escape.

“Penelope.”

Penelope surrendered, handing the paper to Sam, who opened it up and read the headline aloud, “‘Opinion: Was Ben Black’s Kidnapper Secretly In Love With Him?’ What? Who is this Jordan Cunningham? Where did he get this photo of me and Ben?”

“It’s totally ridiculous. No one could possibly take it seriously. But, the picture is convincing. In my opinion, I would say that it looks more like Ben is longing after you, rather than the other way around, though.”

“He’s not longing after anything, especially not me. It’s just like that other photo where it looked like I was crying. It’s all made up.”

“You mean this one?” Penelope flipped the page. “Yeah, I thought that it looked bad on my phone, but all blown up like this is … not your best look. It’s not your fault. Some people just don’t photograph well. Some are always blinking, some always look heavier, some have weird, forced smiles. You? It’s like you’re blessed with good looks in person, but cursed when you’re caught on camera. Like there’s a filter on every lens that turns you into an ‘after’ picture in one of those ads that warns kids not to do drugs. I mean, look at the picture on this page — I know it’s not — but doesn’t it look like there’s drool running down your chin?”

“Ugh. I don’t care about the photos, but these stories … I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t bother me a little. I’m really looking forward to seeing this reporter eat crow because I’m the one who’s going to make it happen.”

“Nuh-uh, sister. You aren’t doing anything without me helping in whatever way I can, even if it ends up being just a tiny bit. You are a ‘we’ now, whether you like it or not.”

“Well, I don’t want to get you into too much trouble.” Sam gave Penelope a shy smile. “But it was lucky that you took Trax yesterday when you did. Guess who showed up at my front door this morning, bright and early?”

“You’re kidding! No way!”

“Yep, your biggest fan and another officer.”

“What? I can’t believe Animal Control would actually do that! Honestly, what they are doing is so above and beyond. It really doesn’t make any sense.”

“I don’t know. They said it was because Trax has rabies. I bet they never even called Dr. Chow to confirm that he doesn’t. We have to come up with a better solution because you were with me on the trail when we ran into them. And then you came with me to their office yesterday. They might figure it out, Pips.”

“You don’t have to tell me. I’m just hoping Mom doesn’t realize that the dog following her around everywhere is the same ‘rabid dog’ Wesley got Elle MacTavish to write about. But don’t worry, I have it all figured out. My cousin Claudia fell in love with Trax when she came by to help me Photoshop those pics. She could take him down to Vancouver when she goes back, if you want. What do you think?”

Sam hesitated. She hadn’t had a chance to spend much time with Trax. He had done so much for her and Ben, it didn’t seem fair to him to just cast him away. At least if he was at Penelope’s house, she would be able to visit him. But Animal Control was being so aggressive and wasn’t giving up. And Penelope’s mom was a question mark. Sam knew she didn’t have a choice. “Okay. That’s really kind of her. Could I thank her in person?”

“Of course, silly. She’s three doors down from me and, during the day, she’s helping her grandfather — not on my side — with his bakery in the Village Square. Baker’s Doutzen, do you know it?”

Sam nodded. She knew it. An image of the bakery had been burned into her mind on the day of the shooting. She had looked out the market’s windows and seen George Baker, the owner, handing out fresh samples in front of his shop across the parking lot, just minutes before she had felt her mom’s hand suddenly go limp. She would remember Baker’s Doutzen forever.

“Oh my goodness, Sam. Is that one of them?”

Sam looked up. “Where?”

“Fourth in line from the front.”

A clean shaven man in crisp clothes was reading the paper as he waited in line. “The man in the black coat? I don’t think so.”

“No, beside him. Wait until he moves a bit. There!”

A bearded man wearing a multi-colored ski jacket leaned down and picked up something off the ground. Sam checked her phone, browsing to the photo that Drew had sent to her. The man’s colorful jacket matched the one in the photo. She looked carefully at his face and compared it to the photo. “It does look like him. I think it is. But is he with the guy in black?”

“Well, he just offered him that cigarette butt he found, so yeah, I think they’re together. But seems so odd.”

Sam scrolled to the other photo Drew had taken — a picture of the back of a tall man whose head was turned to the side. The man’s profile showed that he had a dark, unruly beard. The two men didn’t look anything alike. But when she zoomed in on his face, she saw it. A scar on his right eyebrow. As she raised her head, she noticed the two men walking directly towards her. The man in black had the same scar on his eyebrow.

Sam had been so focused on looking at the man in black’s eyebrow that she didn’t realize that his picture was clearly on display as he and the other man returned her stare and walked past. She rushed to close her phone’s photo gallery. Was it too late? Had they already seen it? She saw the man in the colorful jacket look back at her over his shoulder.

“It’s them, Pips. Let’s go!” Sam whispered. She jogged across the width of the Ice Bridge and exited through one of the side ramps, walking along the sidewalk in front of the stores and following the men as they continued on their way along the Ice Bridge. Penelope trailed the men as well, mirroring her on the other side.

The Ice Bridge was crowded with people and Sam found it difficult to keep the two men in her sights. She texted back and forth with Penelope, making sure that at least one of them knew where the men were. After several minutes of walking without seeing Penelope or the men, she heard her phone beep.

They r crossing Bridge 2 walk on ur side,” Penelope’s text read.

Sam slowed down immediately and when she looked up from her phone, she spotted the two men almost directly in front of her. She turned quickly and found herself facing a rack of sweaters outside of DressU. Pretending to inspect the clothing on the rack, she watched them through the reflection in the store window. They wandered to another rack beside her and as they browsed through the clothes, the man in the colorful jacket glanced up at the window. He locked eyes with her through the reflection. They both froze, recognizing that they were watching each other and it wasn’t until Sam felt her heartbeat speed up and blood rush into her cheeks that she averted her eyes.

She picked up a sweater and held it next to her body while she stole a peek at the men. The man with the colorful jacket was still glaring at her. She looked down at the sweater and patted it against her belly, feeling her cheeks burn warmer. Her hand snagged on a tube attached to the sweater and it was only then that she realized that the top was made for a man. Sized 3XL with a small pocket over the belly labelled “insert beer can here,” the sweater had a drinking tube that snaked its way from the pocket, up the chest and onto the shoulder, poking out at the neck. She quickly extended her arm and tilted her head, trying to appear as though she was carefully considering it.

The two men rifled through the clothing rack until they were right beside her. Sam turned the sweater around and inspected the back.

“You shouldn’t go crazy with the money, Steve,” the man with the colorful jacket said.

“It’s my decision, not yours. I got you a coffee yesterday, so be thankful for that.”

“I’m not asking for more. I’m just saying that maybe you shouldn’t blow it all at once.”

“Aiden, don’t. I’ll do what I want. You don’t want me telling you what to do, even though if you did what I told you to do, you wouldn’t have to worry about not having money all the time. It’s about time you start listening more. You want something, you have to go get it. Can’t keep going the way you’re going.”

“Leave me alone. You think you know everything? You’re such a big man, making big moves. So what if you have money now. I could make one phone call and you’d have nothing again. So, what else do you want to say to me? Let’s go.”

“Don’t threaten me. You call anyone and you’ll regret it. Don’t test me.”

“Come on, then!”

Sam had stopped pretending to shop. She took a step away, but it was too late. Aiden spun around. Holding a knife in his hand, he screamed at her, “Why are you spying on us?”

Continue Reading The Next Chapter

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